A conversion is incomplete without Jesus in central place in our life, Lord of All. And second, conversion is incomplete if it does not bring us into the full fellowship of the Church. Who believes it these days? Fewer and fewer – at least in our country. For more and more people, the church is not for them – an anachronism, the butt of ridicule. Doctor John White, a well-kent figure in church in his day, preaching at an open-air meeting was heckled continuously. One heckler shouted at him, “Why should I go to church? It is full of hypocrites!” “Correct”, Dr White threw back at him, “but there is still room for another!”
There is more room than ever today for hypocrites and whosoever will belong. If we cannot arrest the spiralling decline in church membership by 2040, we are informed, only 0.5% of the population will belong to church. Enough said! There are many reasons given for people ignoring the church, apart from the absurd idea that we are all a bunch of hypocrites, or that we have not moved with the times. I am certain a lot of our friends have voted with their feet because of what they consider to be the entrenched stance of the church over matters of personal morality. And it seems to me that, in this respect, the voice of concern and protest in regard to family planning and contraception has, for the time being, given way to matters relating to same-sex marriages.
Why is the Church in decline? It is not! Maybe in the UK and Europe – yes. It is a different story in Africa and South America. World-wide the church is growing, most certainly giving expression to their commitment to Christ and Faith. A young woman being interviewed as a prospective candidate for the church’s ministry was asked what she would most like to see in the church during her ministry. She replied immediately, “Full churches”. Would not we all? The pessimistic streak in me thought “poor girl”. In a different mood, the prospect of a dying church and the adverse impact on the ministry and mission of Jesus, the vision I have of a church on its last legs is not as bleak.
We began this essay with the bold statement that our conversion is incomplete if our embrace of faith takes no account of the Church. Here we are about to enter to the realm of controversy – Is that opening assertion written in stone? I am not so certain. I do not hold with the view that all of those folk whom we would love to see in church do not share with us a spiritual hunger or are not impressed by the story of a Saviour’s life, his mission and ministry and the breadth of his love. I believe (there will be those who disagree) the many folk who assure us that they have no ambition to commit themselves to the church, that they have found faith and love Jesus without the restricting hindrance of the church. I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view and find myself on occasions asking, might they not be in the sight of God, Christians, entitled as much as you and me to be named disciple? My friends may be relieved that, so far, I have returned to orthodoxy! I still hold that a conversion is incomplete until we embrace the full fellowship of the Church. For a number of reasons – I shall mention two briefly.
First: the journey of Christian faith is far too hard for any one of us to go it alone. We need one another, a helping hand as we stumble along the rough path of faith, a shoulder to lean on, and the wise counsel of those who have “been there – got the T-shirt”, a guide who is heaven-sent. Secondly, God needs the church, which is why it is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). The Body of Christ to preserve and proclaim the stories of Jesus and of the love that passes all our understanding, to seek out and bring women and men into the embrace of a Heavenly Father’s love. God still needs the church; still uses the church.